Great minds think alike and that’s as true for food as it is for science.
Just as in the late 19th century numerous inventors were experiencing lightbulb moments in the race for the first electric light, so as different civilizations first emerged, they independently invented their own versions of bread, beer and cheese.
And so it is with dumplings. Across the globe different varieties found favour – the ravioli and tortellini of Italy, Gyoza of Japan, Joshpara of the Middle East and the classic suet dumpling of Britain and Ireland.
But the daddy of all dumpling stories can be traced back to China, some 1800 years ago and behind its invention lies the answer to why, to this day, many Chinese dumplings are shaped like ears.
Zhang Zhongjing was a revered physician, inventor and writer left deeply troubled when he returned to his home in Central China after many years travelling to discover many of the villagers were perishing in the harsh winter.
He noted their hunger, malnutrition and the frostbite around their ears and vowed to save the village.
Zhang combined mutton or lamb with herbs and chillies and wrapped them in a dough parcel shaped like an ear. They were then steamed to bind the contents together.
Dubbed the “medical saint”, Zhang instructed that the ill be given warm soup and two dumplings each. Within days the villagers’ strength returned and the frostbite disappeared.
The dumplings Zhang invented were known as Jioa’er – or “tender ears” – and later by today’s name of Jiaozi.
Modern day medics have studied the legend and concluded that not only were Zhang’s dumplings delicious and warming, the mixture of herbs and spices can increase blood flow to the extremities and would indeed soothe frostbitten ears.
National Dumpling Day is now held every September 26 – with the onset of winter a perfect time to celebrate this most comforting of foods. And, if you’re torn over whether to have just one more dumpling feel free to tuck in, safe in the knowledge you are enjoying one of the world’s first health foods.
How to make Chinese dumplings from scratch
- 500g plain flour
- 60ml water
- 450g pork mince
- 250g shrimp
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine (or dry sherry)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon white pepper
- 450g napa cabbage
- 4 green onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
For the dumpling dough, mix the water and flour together and begin to knead for 10-15 minutes. Place a damp, warm tea towel over the dough and place in a warm place for two hours. Then, take the dough and kneed again for 3-4 minutes. Slice 1/6 of the dough off and then divide that piece into 12 balls and let rest. For the filling, finely chop the cabbage, and mix everything together in a bowl until everything is well incorporated. Flatten the dough balls, then scoop 1 tablespoons of filling into the centre. Fold over into a half moon shape then begin to crimp the edges with your fingers. Steaming the dumplings is the best way to cook them. Place them in a steamer for 10 minutes then serve immediately.